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Connecting to move forward—Part 2
The second day of Connecting the Dots: Work Life Balance Ageing, a recent conference hosted by The UWI Research Development Impact Fund, in collaboration with the Institute of Gender and Development Studies and the Social Work Unit, took up the tempo of the opening day, did some major gear shifts in changing perceptions of the ageing process and its relation to work and productivity and conclusively proved the imperative for data-driven policy formulation and implementation.
Focusing on ways forward, the realisation of the enormous benefits of connecting the dots between Caribbean practice in the field of ageing and national policy planning, energised all participants with the mission “to carry the conversation out into communities who can help with the research which can guide policy.”
Very few university conferences result in anything more than the publication of papers presented, a few more drops in the cerebral goldfish bowl. But Connecting, as many delegates confirmed, was no ordinary conference. With its art exhibition, resident artists, animation, documentaries, live performances and awards Connecting brought creativity and creative thinking to the endeavour of making new knowledge, of changing perceptions, not only on campus but in all our wider local and regional communities.
Proceedings got under way on the second morning with an award ceremony, recognising local and regional pioneers and icons in the field of ageing. There was an extended family reunion atmosphere, as several student ushers and awardees testified to the awe experienced in meeting pioneers whose books or practice had inspired them.
Awardees included Dr Joan Rawlins, a key member of the committee which developed T&T’s 2007 National Policy on Ageing; Dr Jennifer Rouse, first Director of the Division of Ageing; Subesh Ramjattan advocate, activist and author of Ageing has a Silver Lining –Coping with Rainy Days and Philip Ramdass, indefatigable voluntary worker, receiving an award on behalf of the T&T Association of Retired Persons. Former National Calypso Monarch and UWI alumnus Roderick “Chucky” Gordon gift-wrapped the awards with his patriotic kaiso I Believe in the Red White and Black.
Given last year’s scare over pensions, the day’s keynote address by Niala Persad Poliah, Executive Director of the National Insurance Board of T&T, might have been contentious but Persad Poliah quickly reassured participants that she too can connect the dots and that the NIB “had found an ally” in the WLBA project, in relation to “planning for a longer working life.” Increasing life expectancy, the doubling of the over 60 sector of the population along with a contraction in the workforce aged 15-60, all suggest that older people should have the right to continue working beyond the current compulsory retirement age.
The following two roundtables took this discussion forward, concentrating on work/ageing issues.
The consensus established early in the conference that we have much to learn from each other regionally was fully endorsed by Dr Letnie Rock’s presentation on the Barbados ageing experience. Our neighbour has successfully instituted a comprehensive policy (connecting dots between the Ministries of Social Care and Welfare, Health and Social Security, the National Assistance Board (NAB) and the Community Development project) to address biophysical, social security and economic needs based on longer life expectancy.
Some of the national policy recommendations (along with many of its implementations) will resonate with T&T’s aspirations: “the full implementation of a national policy with a gender equality and rights based approach that seeks to provide an enabling environment for persons as they grow older, a multi-sector approach, the continued involvement of seniors in driving policy agenda, temporary and permanent housing solutions for the elderly and the provision of socialisation and recreational opportunities.
Countering the “over the hill” perception of the aged, HR specialist Diane Hector shifted focus to the more productive tags: “The best is yet to come” and “age is just a number.” She cited an ILO recommendation for labour policy revision, which would aid in developing the aged’s potential as a valuable and valued human resource, in terms of experience, skills, competence, knowledge transfer, coaching and mentoring.
Douladel Willie-Tyndale of the Mona Ageing and Wellness Centre questioned the extent to which our societies facilitate productive engagement for the elderly, noting that their unmeasured paid and unpaid activities along with their presence in the workforce already directly contribute to their families and communities while reducing financial dependence. She suggested age-friendly initiatives to formalise and facilitate these contributions.
This suggestion was developed by Mr Francis Joseph, Population Affairs Officer of UNECLAC, who cited strategies for making the workplace more age-friendly: occupational health and well being support; fairness in recruiting and training; flexibility in both work and retirement; information on retirement, caregiving and healthcare, along with policies which recognise the needs of older adults who are care givers.
The last sessions on ways forward in research and outreach recognised the fundamental problem of “the disconnect between academia, activists and practitioners.” There was agreement that the open conversation inaugurated at the conference “needs to be intelligible and accessible” both for the aged themselves and the wider community/society. Participants also agreed that while “output from this conference would greatly help reviewing national policy, policies need to be based on experiments and pilots, as in the Caribbean we have policies which are not implemented or measured”—another powerful argument for the continuing and developing the WLBA’s research project.
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